Many reasons are offered as to “why tattoo.” I grew during a time when tattooing was considered the act of bad boys, criminals, and sailors. Brief histories of tattooing reveal, however, that tattooing has a wider distribution and depth than usually appreciated, with the most secure evidence coming from the Upper Paleolithic (30-12,000 BCE —before current era) in Europe . But undoubtedly the ritual practices go back before the age of modern humans (see Rush 2005). The original practices were connected to ideas and concepts of life, death, magical protective charms or specific identity with the monsters in their waking life and in their dreams. These monsters were those powerful predators who provided food in the form of carcasses but ate them on a regular basis. Life and death; the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, life eats life.

All tattooing is potentially spiritual in the sense of movement along a path toward illumination. And what is that path? “Know thy self!” The tattooing ritual and the associated pain can be used to get in touch with you, not as a mechanism to see how much pain you can stand, but to use the pain as a vehicle of release. At some point in the tattooing process you realize that the pain is an illusion. The pain is there but you can intensify or diminish the experience All events in your mind are subject to interpretation, and when your interpretation alters its significance to you alters as well.

by John A. Rush © 2009
World Myths Tattoo Gallery

by John A. Rush © 2009
Spiritual Tattoo: A Cultural History of Tattooing, Piercing, Scarification, Branding, and Implants